Children from low-income families suffer from social exclusion and a sense of shame at not having enough food to eat, according to research published by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).
Many do not qualify for free school meals; even when they do, lunches may be insufficient for teens, and some children from families that do not have public resources (NRPF) because of their parents' immigration status do not eat anything during the school day.
The UCL study, Living from Hands to Mouth: Children and Foods in Low Income Families, includes conversations with 51 children from low-income families in southeast England who describe their food experiences at home, at school, and in social settings.
The interviews, which are part of a larger European study on food poverty among children and families in Portugal, Norway and the United Kingdom, provide a rare view of the lived experience of children with food poverty.
Some have said how schools identify children at free school meals (FSM), restricting dietary choices they can select, causing embarrassment to children. About a quarter went hungry despite the parents 'sacrifice, and little more than half of the youngsters did not have the money to spend on their friends' food.
Amara, 15, whose family has NRPF, told researchers, "When I'm hungry, I can not concentrate, it's really hard for me to do it … so I just need to decide and know what to eat after five hours It's seven o'clock when I get home. [from school].
Gideon, 15, whose family also has NRPF, said: "It's embarrassing, yes, you do not have money on the card and then you watch them eat." The lack of food makes him apathetic and unable to concentrate. "Sometimes you do not have enough energy, you can not handle the classroom, so you have to try to get some rest. You just put your head on the table and end up sleeping in the classroom and you feel bad about it.
Maddy, 16, described her embarrassment at being identified as being at the WSF. "When she [lunchtime staff at the checkout] was like "You can not do this, you're a free school lunch," as if I'm really ashamed, because people were waiting behind me, I kind of kind of "Oh my God." And it's as if you're really restricted to what you can eat with free school meals. So now I just understood what I know I'm safe … then a small baguette and a box of juice. "
Parents often run out of food to make sure their children eat. Bryony, 13, said: "If there is not enough food, we'll get it and sometimes Mom will go hungry and go hungry. Even if it's not too much food for me and [brother], it's enough that we actually had something while the mother does not have it, and it gets a little to the point where we start feeling guilty because the mother did not have anything and we had it. "
Co-author Rebecca O'Connell said: "Food poverty and its effects on the physical and emotional well-being of children and young people is a cause for great concern. In the face of fragmented responses and government neglect, prospects should remain bleak.
"In order to combat child and family food poverty, the government should use research on budgetary standards to ensure that wages and benefits, in combination, are adequate for a socially acceptable standard of living and food, which recognizes the foods. health and social inclusion. "
Alison Garnham, CPAG's chief executive, added: "The young people in this study advocate universal free school meals with more power than anyone else. Hunger, shame, the feeling of being isolated from learning and social opportunities – all because parents can not afford enough food – are scary in a society that believes all children are important. "